Hi my name is Tom, and I’ve been working in the games industry for over two years now as a Level Designer, before this I studied game design at university and I came out of that pretty well with a first and some awards.
Now that introductions are out of the way here we go on with proper blog number one…
Starting in the Industry - tips and tricks for students.
This advice is more aimed at students who are going into a studio environment and it might not apply to those who are starting their own company or working solo.
I want to express that this advice is for students who are on a games course. But I know some great designers, programmers and artists who don’t have a degree in games development and hopefully there is something in here to help people that want to break into the games industry without getting a game development degree.
Advice 1: You know nothing, Jon Snow.
It's hard to accept the fact that you spent three years of your life studying and earning a degree in a subject, to then realise that you really know nothing about game development.
Now when I say nothing, I don’t mean nothing. You should know how to use various tools and be pretty adept at those tools. You should have been spending time working on games and projects outside of just your course materials and all of that is great knowledge to possess. Some of you will even know enough to go away and make your own indie games and springboard your careers from there. The understanding of the tools should be the foundation of your career. Allow your leads and seniors to help build you up into a great developer.
Learning from seniors and leads is something that’ll happen very naturally. Avoid any bad habits and take on board all of their years of wisdom. A good lead will try to nurture your talent and make you grow as a developer so be prepared for constructive criticism and to learn everything you can from them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions - they’ve more than likely asked the same questions when they were juniors.
As well as asking questions you shouldn’t be afraid to share ideas and get involved in conversations. This will help you build your confidence and explore ideas with other developers. Making games is very often a collaborative process and the sharing of ideas is what helps drive that process forward.
Working in a studio to milestone deadlines where the success of a project depends on the work that you’re doing, is totally different to life on a university course. A good university course will do a great job of setting up milestone type meetings where they play the role of a publisher. I was fortunate enough to go to a uni that worked in this way. The best way to get some experience in a studio atmosphere is to simply “get experience”. This is the one time in your career you should work for free. As a student you should be out there looking for work experience. My first work experience was doing QA for a small indie dev in my second year summer holiday. As a student take all opportunities and make them work for you. Some will be great, some won’t be. The experience is what counts.
Advice 2: Don’t Be Over Protective
When making a game it’s important to have a very thick skin. You need to be able to take criticism on board and make adjustments to your area of work based on feedback. If a lead asks you to change something, they’ve asked you for a reason, if you don’t understand why, then ask and understand why what you were doing was a mistake. Feedback will be constant in development. Below is some advice on how to deal with a sudden influx of feedback.
Every piece of work has phases. The first phase is you completing a pass of it and then getting it reviewed. Phase two leads to feedback which you then have to implement, and more often than not you’ll have to tweak your work to fit that feedback. At the end of phase two the work is either complete or there is another round of feedback.
Being a level designer I find that the iterative process of phase two can keep going for a very long time. This is simply because of the nature of making games. For example a designer might come up with a new mechanic which means they then have to find a way of fitting it into a level. This is an extreme example but can sometimes happen.
There are two important things to remember when receiving feedback. Firstly you should embrace the critique and not let it get you down. The critique is only making you a better developer. Secondly learn when to ignore some feedback. Sometimes people will give feedback that you know won’t work. The last thing you want to do is make changes based on bad feedback.
Advice 3: Fail Hard and Fail Fast
This next statement may confuse you, but failing isn’t a bad thing. Failing is just a step on the way to making something great. That’s why it’s important to fail fast. The faster you fail the quicker you find out what does and doesn’t work.
Make sure you learn and understand why you failed. The more you learn from failing early the quicker and more efficient you’ll become during the course of the project you’re on. Experienced devs still fail. The difference between these experienced devs and new devs is that they quickly asses what is and isn’t working.
By failing hard and failing fast you’ll learn more in your first 6 months of employment then you did in your whole time at university.
Advice 4: Drop the Ego
Don’t walk into a job with a know it all attitude - no one likes a know it all.
Raise your opinions and speak your mind yes, but remember that you’re new to this and compared to a lot of people, you’re inexperienced.
There is little room in game development for giant egos and in your first job you have no right to possess one. This could greatly affect your reputation, which will in turn damage your career.
Reputation is more important in games development than people think, and you start building your reputation at your very first lecture in university. People from your university will get jobs as well and they will go and work at a variety of studios. Because of this it’s good to have a reputation of being a hard working and generally a pleasant person from the beginning. This reputation will help you in you future and it’ll be a reputation you’ll want to maintain throughout your working life.
Advice 5: Tips and Tricks
The following section is a bunch of advice that I’ve gathered from other devs while researching for this blog.
Interview Dress: When going for your first interview, don’t wear a suit. Go either casual or smart casual. The main thing is that you’re clean and tidy.
Don’t work for free: Like I said earlier, work for free while you’re getting your degree - that experience will benefit you greatly. But once you’ve got your degree don’t even consider it. You’ve put in the time to become employable. Most internships and graduate programmes offer some sort of salary so there’s no excuse for someone to want you to work for free.
Apply For Jobs Early: You should be applying for jobs as soon as your third year starts, even if you don’t get any responses, you get rejected or people say you aren't suitable yet. At least you’re getting your name out there and learning how to write cover letters and how to put together a CV that people will want to read. If you get rejected remember to ask why. This will help your future applications be more successful.
Let’s wrap it up!
Well that’s the end of this blog, hopefully there is some useful tips and tricks in there along with some advice.If you want to share any experiences or start a conversation please feel free to leave a comment.
Thanks for reading,